was hotter than Maui. The warmest May 5th
on record topped off a productive week around the Crooked 9. Ann and I cleared
the yard and flowerbeds of debris, 10 lawn bags filled, sir. The outdoor furniture
came out of hibernation. I restained the back steps, touched up the wrought
iron railings front and back. I repainted the patio tables. We even coped with
the Costco garden centre. The reward for work well done was an evening trip to
the Empress Ale House to catch up with close relatives, dear friends.
The Empress is on the low rent portion of
beyond the CPR tracks that bisect the strip. The extensive and fluid customer
demographic is an NDP pollster’s dream, all are welcome. Sometimes there’s
table service, most of the time you fetch your drinks yourself. The Empress
does not have a kitchen so drinkers often bring their own food; the pizza joint
next door does a great takeaway business. There’s a modest performance space
and televisions you don’t notice until somebody decides to turn them on.
Our group was angling for the patio abutting the sidewalk. It’s a sheltered rectangle filled with sturdy tables and benches. People share space, it’s okay to sit with strangers. We ended up with a premium vantage point for the street life serenade. High up on the wall above the door the Hip were singing ‘Bobcaygeon’ in a black box. Vintage cars, waxed and polished, paraded along the avenue. Rice rocket Power Rangers gunned their engines. The Harley boys, wearing their tattoos and Nazi regalia, rumbled their choppers. Ordinary, average cars and trucks flew military staff car Edmonton Oilers hockey pennants from their doors and antennae. City buses pulled in and out of traffic. The heat and exhaust amplified the noise making conversation difficult and eavesdropping impossible.
Most of the pedestrians and many of the Empress patrons wore Oilers sweaters. The new, not quite vile, orange home colours were predominant over the glory days’ base blue and orange striping. Some fans sported the discarded midnight blue and red-accented copper laundry (still the team’s best look) and, God help them, a few insanely loyal sad sacks actually maneuvered themselves into the horrid and mercifully short-lived Reebok makeover pajama tops. Game five of the second playoff round against the Anaheim Ducks was scheduled for 8:30 pm Mountain.
When an Empress staffer erased the chalkboard by the entry and then wrote
! EMPRESS LAGER PINTS $4, I
realized we were three hours into our session. The ambient noise from inside
the pub changed, it echoed the ebb and flow of the hockey game. Outside people
on the sidewalk, and drivers on the road, hard-wired and radioed, added
choruses, cacophony. There’s a peculiar magic in the lower atmosphere when
citizens come together over something other than sharing weather and
When Ann and I left the Empress the game was into the third period.
Edmonton, playing in , was up three
to nothing. We’d each had one of those potentially lethal ‘Oh, let’s have one
more’ pints. We caught a yellow cab on the wrong side of Whyte as the
pedestrian warning lights counted down the orange seconds. Our ride along the
trendy strip was curious, this was what an occupation might look like: pairs of
police officers in day-glo vests patrolled the ends of every block, both sides.
There were no cars; parking along Whyte had been banned because guess what
tends to happen to vehicles (and shop windows) if Canadian hockey fans tumble
out of bars to riot either happily or angrily. Ultimately and sensibly, the
police service had made it very inconvenient for drunks to drive. California
Once we got home there were chores to stagger through. The tabbies had to be treated with dry and wet food and the senior one, a grumpy old bastard, required his thyroid medicine. We prepared the coffee machine for Saturday morning’s CKUA radio shows, the newspapers and our New York Times crossword puzzle session. Ann gracefully excused herself to slip away to bed. I turned on the Oilers game. They were still leading, pitching a shutout with a little more than three minutes to go. The play was mostly in their end which was worrisome but they weren’t collapsing around their net in wildlife highway panic.
I thought, ‘No drama here,’ bedtime and three heavy lidded sentences from the book on my night table. In the bedroom, Ann asked me if the game was over yet. I said, ‘No, there’s about three minutes to go and they’re up three to nothing. Anything can happen, but it’s unlikely. Good for them, a key game.’ Especially as they’d blown a two goal lead in game four at home and went on to crater in overtime.
Well. Didn’t the Ducks pull their goalie three times during the final three minutes and score three goals? Nothing of the sort has ever happened before in a century of professional hockey in
North America. The Montreal Canadiens and Rocket Richard
never did it; neither did Bobby Orr and the Boston Bruins, or even ’s own Oilers led
by Wayne Gretzky. In my experience as a sports fan and someone who is curious
about the world, I’ve learned that all in all it’s better to make history in a
positive way; Anaheim did that and I’m talking about a Disney franchise created
to shill Emilio Estevez DVDs. Edmonton